The direction of this blog

If anyone reads this blog regularly, they may have noticed that over the last six or seven months, I’ve mostly written about horror on the small and big screens. Heading into 2018, that will continue. This blog has shifted its focus from poetry-related content to horror. Am I ditching poetry? Heck no! However, I have two main outlets for writing about poetry critically: Schuylkill Valley Journal, where I am focusing on essay writing, and 4 Square Review, where I’ll be a staff reviewer starting this January, when the site launches. I am grateful to write for both of those outlets and to give poetry its due there. I love writing about poetry in the essay form, and of course, I will continue writing and publishing my own poetry. Look for a new essay I have on Robert Bly and environmentalism coming out in SVJ this January.

Heading into the new year, this blog will mostly focus on horror-related content, from film, to TV, to books. I’m sure I’ll write a political post now and then, too, especially heading into the mid-term elections in the U.S. When it seems appropriate, I’ll post events happening in the Scranton area, too, especially the Writers Showcase readings.

Anyways, thanks for reading!

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TWD’s Unexpected Death

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Typically, “The Walking Dead” has followed the general arc of the comic, especially under show runner Scott Gimple, who, at times, would have been far better off allowing the scriptwriters to stray more from the source material. Last night’s mid-season finale, however, took a drastic shift from the comic in one of the most jaw-dropping reveals. Carl (Chandler Riggs) has been bitten by a walker. Yep. Carl is going to die, probably no later than the first episode of the second half of the season. This is a major shift from the comics. Following the All Out War arc between Rick’s group and Negan’s Saviors, there is a time jump of a few years. Carl is older and more confident in making strategic decisions in times of crisis. Since Rick is nearly killed by Negan at the end of the war, Carl assumes a leadership position, and to this day,  he takes on some of the most interesting story lines. That won’t be happening on the show, however.

It is unclear why the scriptwriters decided to kill of Carl. Maybe, Chandler Riggs wants to attend college and move on from a show that has consumed nearly half of his life. Maybe, the writers wanted to shake things up and show the audience that indeed no one is safe, including original cast members. Maybe, they wanted Rick’s character to go in a new direction.

Will all hope be lost for Rick Grimes after losing his only son? I don’t think so. Unlike the comic, he still has his daughter Judith to raise. He still has his friends, and it is likely he will be even more emboldened to wipe out the Saviors, who he will probably blame for Carl’s tragic fate, despite the fact that Carl suffered the bite while saving a new character named Siddiq and bringing him back to the community, thus giving him a chance to survive. This happened a few episodes ago when they were in the woods and Carl was ambushed by a walker and knocked to the ground. The bite was not revealed in that particular episode, but there is a reason that the camera didn’t show Carl’s lower half when he was knocked over by a walker. He was bitten, and they kept the fact a secret for a few more episodes.

My main hope for “The Walking Dead” at this point is that it will wrap up the All Our War arc soon, no later than the second half of this season. At one point during last night’s mid-season finale, Carl tells his father that they have to start rebuilding, that they can’t keep feuding with various factions. In other words, there has to be some other purpose to their existence. “The Walking Dead” used to be about the idea of humanity in the face of a collapsed society, but for the last season and a half or so, it’s been one battle after another, an action show with some zombies in the mix. You would think that the bullets would run out at some point!

Carl risked his life to save Siddiq, someone he barely knows, because he didn’t want a human being trying to survive alone in a zombie apocalypse. At one point, when Negan and his goons are about to bomb Alexandria with grenades, Carl asks him, “Is this who you really wanted to be?” Those moments have always been the strength of the show, especially during those first few season, its prime. Maybe, after Carl’s death and after All Out War, the show can shift back to the idea of trying to rebuild and maintain humanity in such a brutal world. That should be the focus again, especially now that Rick is going to lose his only son.

 

 

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Can Get Out Snag an Oscar?

 

It’s rare for horror movies to be in the running for an Oscar.  The genre has been around since the early stages of film and underwent its first Golden Age during the 1930s Universal Studios run, which were films heavily influenced by the 1920s German Expressionist films like Nosferatu. Yet, despite its connection to film history, it has largely been shut out of the Oscars. IMDB has a list of horror/suspense films that have been nominated over the years, and less than 50 films make the list. Some of the films do not fall directly into the genre of horror, since the list combines horror with suspense, and some of the films, like Frankenweenie, are questionable. The only horror film to win for Best Picture was Silence of the Lambs. The Exorcist was nominated, but it didn’t win.

There is a chance that Get Out can change the trend and snag a possible Best Picture nomination and win. Some buzz has already been building, including this recent article by Slate. Directed by Jordan Peele, the film grossed over $200 million worldwide and analyzes thorny racial issues in the U.S. It is the perfect movie for the era of the NFL protests and Black Lives Matter. Beyond that, the film rewrites a lot of the horror tropes and conventions.

The film centers around college students Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), as they travel upstate to visit her parents in rural America. On the surface, Rose’s parents act progressive and appear happy that their white daughter is dating a black guy. Her father says more than once that he voted for Obama, as though that absolves him of any racial prejudices. The film is unique in the sense that Peele takes supposedly affluent progressive liberals to task for claiming to be social justice warriors, but harboring their own prejudices. The film has its comedic elements, too, especially through Chris’ best friend, Andrew (Lakeith Stanfield), who constantly warns Chris that a black man visiting a white girl’s parents in rural America is a recipe for disaster. Andrew also reiterates a lot of the horror movie tropes, namely that the black characters are often the first picked off, especially in the 1970s and 80s slasher films. More importantly, the film shows how the past constantly  haunts the present, which is a fundamental element of Gothic literature and film. The plantation-like setting and one of the film’s main plot points showcases that idea.

The film has a methodical pace, building tension scene by scene, from the beginning, when Chris and Rose are pulled over by a white officer  who questions Chris for no reason, to the jarring conclusion that echoes a greater fear that police officers can kill young black men without penalty.

I can’t think of a film that better addresses the current racial tensions than Get Out. Great horror films serve as a metaphor for our social anxieties and the cultural fears. Peele’s film does just that, while adding some humor. Get Out is a film that should be analyzed and addressed for years, just like James Whale’s Frankenstein, John Carpenter’s Halloween, Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. All of those films rewrote the genre, and Peele’s film does that, especially the  conclusion. Normal order is not necessarily restored, a tradition common to horror films, especially during the first wave or two. It is also a film that calls out the progressive left as much as it does the right.

In general, the Academy has had a disdain for horror. IMDB’s list proves that. But every now and then, a film comes along that draws mass appeal and becomes part of the broader conversation. Get Out is such a film.

 

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Has The Resistance Pondered Its Next Steps?

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Anyone who was dismayed by the election of Donald Trump last year should feel at least a little better at the end of 2017. If I had any say in picking Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, I would name the organizers of the Women’s March, who I credit for kicking off a major year of new activism and resistance. 2017 started with the Women’s March, a global rallying cry the likes of which we’ve not seen before. I marched on the streets of DC, and personally, I have never seen anything as massive and inspiring as the Women’s March (and I’ve been to a lot of protests in DC and other major East Coast cities).  The march unified the left and featured third wave feminist activists like Angela Davis and millennial organizers.

Following the Women’s March, there were several town hall speak outs, phone banks, and rallies to stop the repeal of the ACA. That worked. Then came the #MeToo Movement and the outcries against sexual assault. Lastly, there were the elections in November, with Democrats nearly flipping Virginia’s General Assembly, winning a historic number of seats, and winning governor races in NJ and VA, too. Dems even won state races in deep-red districts in Oklahoma, Montana, and Georgia. Dems are winning in places they shouldn’t be winning, which should be an indicator that a wave is coming next year and the House and maybe the Senate could flip. As I write this, Dems even have a decent shot at turning an Alabama Senate seat blue, due to the allegations against Roy Moore.

All of this has been inspiring. There is a level of civic engagement and awareness that has not been seen since the 1960s. Now, with that said,  what are the next steps for The Resistance? The right-wing is striking back. For one, Trump has gutted the EPA, State Department, and other government agencies. He is stacking federal courts with far-right candidates that can easily overturn civil rights. I also predict that by the end of his first term, he will get at least one more Supreme Court pick. I doubt Ginsburg or Kennedy will last three more years, thus establishing a conservative majority on the nation’s highest court.

I am not optimistic that Muller is going to bring down the entire administration within the next few months. Obstruction of Justice is not easy to prove, and if he can make the case, it won’t happen overnight. Watergate took over two years. Also, what would happen exactly if Trump is charged?  What would his supporters do? What would it do to this country? Trumpism is not going away. It is a symptom of a much deeper problem.

More concerning is the fact that it has become clear the GOP no longer cares about angry phone calls, speak outs, or the unpopularity of its agenda. As I write this, the GOP’s tax bill looks more and more likely to pass. Yesterday, it moved forward out of committee and will soon come to the Senate floor for a full vote, probably this week, and if it passes, it goes back to the House. One of the GOP holdouts, Bob Corker, voted to advance the bill out of committee. Yesterday, The Daily Kos reported that Republicans Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski are likely to vote for it because they’ve secured deals they have wanted. If Corker, Collins, and Murkowski are all yes votes, then it is hard to see how the bill fails.

In short, the GOP needs a win desperately, and they very well may get one, at the expense of the working and middle classes, teachers, anyone on the ACA (the current tax plan would repeal the mandate, which may lead to the collapse of the ACA), graduate students, etc. If the bill passes, it means that the GOP, including so-called moderates like Murkowski and Collins, really no longer care about dissent and outcry. They care most about their donors, who have threatened to cut off funds for 2018 if they do not get their tax cuts.

So what is The Resistance’s answer to all of this? What if organizing, phone banking, and canvassing no longer can sway one of the two political parties? Furthermore, how will The Resistance organize if net neutrality is gutted? Net neutrality ensures that internet providers, like Verizon and Comcast, can’t charge more for certain websites. If the FCC undoes net neutrality rules, which seems likely, then it is probable that big telecom will charge more for certain services, including  social media. All of the major movements over the last few years have largely been organized online, from Occupy Wall Street, to Black Lives Matter, to the Women’s March. Without the ability to do that, The Resistance is in major trouble. As it stands, there really is no plan for a post-net neutrality world. Dissent could be crushed, and here will be a crackdown on information because not everyone will be able to afford several internet packages to secure fast internet speeds that they enjoy now at one package and one price.

2018 is a major year. The Senate, House, state races, and governors mansions are all at play. If there is indeed a blue wave, then the Trump agenda will be stymied. Democrats have a better shot at winning the House than Senate, where they have to defend 25 seats, compared to the GOP’s 10, but even flipping one branch of Congress would break the GOP’s lock.  Voter registration and outreach needs to be the most important issue that The Resistance focuses on in the coming year, and it needs to figure out how to organize beyond social media because net neutrality is in peril.

2017 was a year of civic engagement, and now the movements that sprang up this year, going back to the Women’s March, need to figure out next steps, especially since the right has reacted to organizing tactics and will circumvent them at every turn. The push to pass the tax bill proves that.

 

 

 

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Writers Showcase All-Female Edition

Last year, the Writers Showcase Reading Series in Scranton featured an all-female line-up, and we’re doing the same again this year. The event takes place this Saturday at 7 p.m. Here is a flyer with more details. I also posted the bios of all of the featured readers. If you’re in NEPA, I encourage you to come out, hear these women read, and support the local literary scene.

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Jenette Kiesendahl is an English instructor and the Writing Center Director at Lackawanna College. She earned a Masters of Fine Arts from Hofstra University in 2012 where she was the recipient of the Judith A. Jedlicka Endowed Scholarship. She is the editor for both Something Savage Animation Studio and Woodloch Pines Resort. While her most recent publication for the Pennsylvania Association of Developmental Educators is an academic one, her essay entitled “Misconception” can be found in the Narrateur, and she has published several smaller pieces through local publications on Long Island.

Marcie Herman Riebe is a bilingual case worker by day, a university ESL adjunct by night, and an aspiring writer at times in between. An import to northeastern Pennsylvania, she has been active in the arts for many years in theatre, forensics and music. Her interest in the arts continues as founder of Ink, an area writer’s group, a founding member of Voce Angeli (NEPA’s only all-female chamber choir), as a board member of Arcadia Chorale, a part of the Diva Theater Productions family, and as a member of the Northeast PA Creative Writers. She writes online as a scribe for the Rolling the Dice blog, a contributor to Project Wednesday (a self-development blog), and as the columnist of “The Writer’s Edge” for Thirty-Third Wheel. She loves all things Pittsburgh, particularly the University of Pittsburgh where she earned her Master of Arts degree in Linguistics. She lives in Scranton with her hilarious husband, Pete, and their horde of cats:  Napoleon, Gimli, King Ajax, Sam and Dean.

Samantha Patterson is a fiction and poetry writer born and raised in Larksville, Pennsylvania. Her work has been published in online journals, and she is completing her first full-length manuscript as a student in Wilkes University’s Graduate Creative Writing Program. When she is not writing, Samantha spends her time as a soccer coach for Lackawanna College, while pursuing her journey as a registered yoga instructor.

Rachel Luann Strayer is a produced playwright and aspiring novelist with an M.A. and MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. Her original play Drowning Ophelia received its World Premiere production in San Francisco, followed by East Coast productions in Scranton and Philadelphia. Her short plays have been performed locally by Gaslight Theatre Company and Diva Theater. Rachel works at Keystone College as the Director of Theatre and an Assistant Professor of Communication Arts. She is a co-founder of the local theatre company Ghostlight Productions where she serves as an actor, director, and playwright. Rachel and her husband, Jonathan, live in Clarks Summit, Pa.

Emily Vogel’s poetry, reviews, essays, and translations have most recently been published in The North American Review, Omniverse, The Paterson Literary Review, Lips, City Lit Rag, Luna Luna, Maggy, Lyre Lyre, The Comstock Review, The Broome Review, Tiferet, The San Pedro River Review2 Bridges Review, and PEN, among several others. She is the author of five chapbooks, and a full-length collection, The Philosopher’s Wife, published in 2011 by Chester River Press, a collaborative book of poetry, West of Home, with her husband Joe Weil (Blast Press), First Words(NYQ Books), and recently, Dante’s Unintended Flight (NYQ Books). She has work forthcoming in The Boston Review and Fiolet & Wing: An Anthology of Domestic Fabulism. She teaches writing at SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College and is married to the poet, Joe Weil.

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Rethinking TWD

Negan-JDM_TWD

A few weeks ago, I criticized The Walking Dead, both the TV show and comic. Namely, I took issue with its recycled arc of good guys finding a place to live, meeting a badie, losing their place to live after a war, and rehashing the same story all over again. How many times will we encounter the same general theme: the humans are really the monsters? The comic has been stuck in this recycled plotline since the prison/governor storyline years ago.

One of my biggest gripes about TWD is the character of Negan, a villain who, while popular, is typically a walking one-liner who swings a barbed-wire baseball bat. He is also sexist (even when he claims not to be and espouses some warped moral code) and utterly violent. Even in issue 100 of the comic, when he is bashing in the head of fan favorite Glenn, which is spread over several panels, he cracks one-liners. I was equally harsh on the last two seasons of “The Walking Dead” because of the All Out War storyline between Rick’s group and Negan’s The Saviors. I had hoped Negan would be more interesting and complex on the screen, but after his prolonged and teased introduction, I had little reason to believe that. I also had little reason to keep wanting to watch the show, especially since the first few episodes of this season have featured long, drawn-out action sequences with some zombies and flying bullets, which never seem to hit any main character, even when they are center frame. Go figure.

The last two episodes, however, were two of my favorites in the show’s eight-year run. The episode “Some Guy,” TWD focused on the story of Ezekiel (Khary Payton), a  cartoonish character who has a pet tiger, Shiva, and lords over a community of survivors named The Kingdom. In the comic, it is revealed that Ezekiel is just a regular dude who saved Shiva from a zoo. He took on the king persona to rewrite his story post-apocalypse and to make himself seem above-average. Much of his real story is shared with Michonne, who becomes his lover, though briefly. On the TV show, he shares his  story with Carol (Melissa McBride), who has long been dead in the comic. On the show, Ezekiel is confident that the Saviors will be defeated, but his overconfidence leads to most members of the Kingdom getting gunned down by a group of Saviors at an outpost. One by one, Ezekiel watches the bullets hit the men and women, and then he watches them reanimate into zombies. After the slaughter, he drops the cheesy king gimmick and is knocked back to reality. To make matters worse, he witnesses Shiva devoured by zombies, after she saves him from the horde. This scene occurs in the comic too, but watching the small screen adaptation was a little more jarring because it comes minutes after Ezekiel loses everything and is forced to drop the king shtick, becoming just “some guy.” The episode contained some of the best character development TWD has had in a long time, even with all of the action sequences.

This week’s episode, “The Big Scary U,” was Negan-centric, and also well-crafted and well-written. Most of the episode’s story is lifted from a graphic novel Robert Kirkman wrote about the baddie entitled Here’s Negan, just released a few weeks ago. Like everyone else, including Ezekiel, Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) was a pretty regular dude pre-apocalypse, just a gym teacher. Following the collapse of civilization and the death of his wife, he rewrites his story, just like many of the other characters. What the Negan-centric episode contained that the comic has lacked so far is a depth given to the villain. Negan muses that he only kills people when it is necessary to maintain order. In a few episodes this season, he blames Rick and company for the war, thus making the reader question if even the good guy is imperfect, another ongoing theme of TWD. None of the dialogue-rich scenes from this week’s episodes excuse Negan’s behavior, be it towards women or the brutal death he inflicted upon major characters, but it does give him a depth and philosophy that he doesn’t fully have in the comic. It filled in a backstory that made him more than a one-liner in a black leather coat, wielding baseball bat named Lucille.

I don’t know where the rest of the season is going. I do hope, however, that it differs from the comic, at least somewhat, like the last two episodes have done. I hope more depth is given to the All Out War arc and we really feel the causalities of war (poor Shiva) and feel the weight of the decisions that Rick, Ezekiel, and even Negan make.

With that said, TWD still has a problem. It is totally unclear how this entire thing is going to end. I doubt the TV show has THAT many seasons left, and at some point, Kirkman needs an endgame for the comic, too, even if he is planning 300 issues, as he’s said in the past, and has over 100 left to write. TWD needs to break the cycle of good guys encounter bad guys, suffer casualties, lose their community, and then repeat it all over again. In the comic, shortly after the war with the Saviors, the good guys launch into  a war with a group called the Whisperers. Maybe, the show should avoid that arc and focus on life post-war, including rebuilding, surviving, and trying to maintain humanity. Maybe, the zombies should be the threat for a while.

The last two episodes of TWD were the best of the season, a nice balance of character development and action. More importantly, the episodes broke somewhat from the comic. The comic still has a long way to go before its conclusion, but the show probably does not. It would be wise if the show runners differentiated from the comic to show us that there is a clear end in mind here. Maybe, just maybe, they can give us a glimmer of hope that a society can be rebuilt, even after brutal circumstances.

 

 

 

 

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What AHS : Cult got right about this moment

 

Confession: When I heard months ago that the writers of “American Horror Story” were releasing a season about the 2016 election, I cringed. It  felt too soon, especially since the issues of the 2016 election still loom over us and have dominated 2017 as much as they dominated last year. However, after watching the entire season, including its finale this week, I realized that the horror anthology did a fair job capturing this moment, from the rise of the alt-right/white supremacists, to the power of the women’s movement, to the growing wave of mass shootings. “American Horror Story: Cult” touches upon all of those issues and its finale has an ambiguous ending that questions just where these movements on the left and right will lead.

There are a few spoilers ahead, so if you plan to watch the season, you may want to stop reading here. For the most part, the seventh season of AHS focuses on Ally Mayfair-Richards (Sarah Paulson), a rabid left-winger who catches flack from her wife and friends when she admits that she voted for Jill Stein, and Kai Anderson (Evan Peters), a white supremacist Trumper turned cult leader who paints his face with Cheeto goop and cries victory after the 2016 election results come in and he realizes his guy won. The premiere is absurd, for sure. Some of the dialogue is a volley of clichés on the left and right, but in the age of hashtag social justice movements and 140 characters, maybe that’s the point.

Their ideologies only harden as the season progresses. For instance, there are hints early in the season that maybe Kai Anderson is trolling the absurdity of the online alt-right/white supremacist community, and perhaps he wanted Trump to win because he thought it would embolden and awaken the left. However, by mid-season, he grows an army of alt-righters after winning a city council seat, based on a Trump-like platform. As his followers grow, Kai’s political ideology gets more and more extreme and includes violence against minorities and women (including strangling his sister to death because he thinks she’s an FBI informant) and even a staged assassination attempt to launch a national platform for a Senate seat.

On the other hand, Ally evolves from a leftist cliché character to someone who wields feminism and intersectionality to take down Kai. One of the final scenes of the season includes Ally on stage during a Senate debate for the seat Kai wanted. After he escapes from prison, he tries to assassinate  her and screams that women have no place in power.  Working with other women, including a black prison guard and a black female reporter, Beverly Hope (Adina Porter), Ally defeats him and Beverly shoots him in the head. There are hints that Ally won’t covet power all for herself, as a white feminist, but wants to share it with all women.

While the season was certainly hard on Trump voters, it wasn’t afraid to lampoon the left and pose questions about social movements on both the left and the right, including extremism. The last scene of the finale entails Ally talking to her son, telling him that she hopes his generation will learn from the mistakes of the past and that she, as a newly-elected senator, can help create a world less dominated by sexism for him to inherit. However, the last shot includes Ally wearing a cult-like robe, which begs the question  whether or not she will follow in the footsteps of SCUM manifesto author Valerie Solanos, a radical 1960s feminist who attempted to kill Andy Warhol and whose story was featured throughout the season. The finale leaves the viewer wondering if Ally’s views were hardened and pushed so far to the left, due to her confrontations with Kai, that she too will turn to violence in the same ways that he did.

Any writing on horror theory and structure, be it Stephen King’s Danse Macabre or Robin Wood’s influence essay “An Introduction to the American Horror Film,” stresses the point that the best horror films are allegorical and reflective of our national anxieties. With so much national turmoil, maybe it’s no surprise that AHS found its stride again, after a few lackluster seasons that even Lady Gaga couldn’t save.  Paulson and Peters, two of the only original cast members left, give a few stellar performances, especially in their final confrontation.  There were episodes that made me cringe, especially some of the dialogue (Ally shouting to Kai that she’s a nasty woman moments before he’s shot and killed, for instance), but maybe that was the point. Maybe the season is meant to reflect our divide post-2016 and make us question if we too are falling into some of those ideological stereotypes.

 

 

 

 

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